On July 23, 2015, after a nine-day trial, a Buffalo jury delivered a $1.42 million dollar verdict to the widow of a United States Navy veteran, who died of mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer. The trial was presided over by Supreme Court Justice Deborah A. Chimes. The jury determined that the misconduct of defendant, John Crane Inc., a Chicago-based manufacturer of asbestos gaskets and packing material, contributed to the death of William R. Voelker.
After William R. Voelker graduated from John F. Kennedy High School in 1967, he enlisted in the United States Navy. From 1967 to 1971, Mr. Voelker was exposed to asbestos when he repaired and maintained equipment manufactured by John Crane Inc. His duties included routine maintenance of asbestos-containing boilers and associated equipment and work with and around pumps, valves and compressors, which contained asbestos gaskets and packing materials. Manipulating, cutting, sawing and removing asbestos-containing materials gives rise to a tremendous amount of asbestos dust and fibers, which Mr. Voelker inhaled every day in the Navy.
Evidence was presented at trial by Lipsitz, Ponterio & Comerford partner, John P. Comerford, and attorney Jay Stuemke of Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett, that Mr. Voelker’s mesothelioma was caused by his exposure to the asbestos-containing equipment, which he repaired and maintained aboard U.S. Navy ships. Mr. Voelker was also exposed to asbestos during his childhood from his father’s work clothes. His father was a brick mason at Republic Steel, and he unknowingly carried asbestos dust and fibers into the family home. Claims arising from this exposure were settled before trial.
Mr. Voelker led an active and healthy life prior to his mesothelioma diagnosis in August 2013. His disease progressed quickly causing a tremendous amount of debilitating physical pain and emotional suffering. Mr. Voelker died on Christmas Day 2013, at the age of 65, four months after his mesothelioma diagnosis. He is survived by his wife of 44 years, his father, three children and several grandchildren.
Following the jury’s verdict, Lipsitz, Ponterio & Comerford moved the Court to increase the portion of the jury’s award for past pain and suffering arguing that it was not sufficient in light of the facts of the case, or in the alternative, grant a new trial on the issue of damages for past pain and suffering. Such motions are unusual. Under the law, judges may only alter a jury’s verdict if it is wholly inconsistent with the evidence presented.
On December 18, 2015, after a thorough review of the evidence, Supreme Court Justice Deborah A. Chimes issued a decision ordering that the verdict be set aside unless John Crane Inc. agreed to increase the pain and suffering award from $250,000 to $600,000.
John P. Comerford stated, “After being raised in Buffalo New York, Mr. Voelker joined the United States Navy to serve his country. I am very happy this case came back to Buffalo, and I am happy a Buffalo jury heard this case and honored his commitment to his country.”